It seems every month there is a new study with the "Mediterranean" Diet making headlines. There is good evidence that this diet helps prevent heart disease, cognitive decline from Alzheimer's Dementia and results in weight loss. So what is this Mediterranean Diet that so successfully wards off all evil?
Why did we start to study this diet? The incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States. Death rates are lower, too.
What is the evidence? There are many published studies indicating this diet is protective for heart disease. The Lyon Diet Heart Study is an influential study about the Mediterranean diet that got our attention and the attention of the American Heart Association. This was a randomized trial whose goal was to test the effectiveness of a Mediterranean diet on the rate of coronary events in people who've had a first heart attack. The results suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet may help reduce recurrent events in patients with heart disease. This study was stopped early because patients following the Mediterranean diet had a 50-70 percent lower risk of recurrent heart disease. Several other studies have similar results.
Will it save my mind? The Mediterranean diet may affect not only risk for Alzheimer Disease but may also result in lower mortality in those with dementia. A recent study published in the Archives of Neurology found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet was associated with potentially beneficial effects for mild cognitive impairment as well as preventing the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Those with mild cognitive impairment who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had 48 percent less risk of transitioning to Alzheimer's than those who did not.
Is there ONE "Mediterranean" diet: Not really since at least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea. It may be more appropriate to call it Mediterranean Cuisine. There are, however, common characteristics in the Mediterranean dietary pattern and here they are:
Does the Mediterranean diet contain less fat than ours? The average Mediterranean diet contains much less saturated fat than the average American diet. How is this? More than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil). Monounsaturated fat doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does.
Show me the pantry: For Mediterranean cuisine you needs LOTs of olives (at all meals), olive oils, chick peas, dried beans-black, cannellini, navy, pinto and white beans, lentils, red saffron, wine and tomatoes, oranges, figs, rice, kasha, millet, rolled oats, instant polenta, quinoa, rice-white, basmati, and brown (quick-cooking and wild). More obvious things include fresh vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard), chicken and lamb.
What you DON'T do with a Mediterranean diet:
There are many online resources for Mediterranean recipes but I'd love to hear your suggestions.